Dr Joanna Helcke is a multi-award-winning expert in pregnancy and postnatal fitness. She has spoken on stage at both the NEC and Excel, given numerous talks for the NHS, written material for a number of pregnancy books and spoken on the radio and television about prenatal fitness.
She gives her insights into the three rules of pregnancy fitness and the ‘dos and don’ts of exercising in pregnancy:
Continuity is key
When you’re keeping fit in pregnancy, continuity is fundamental: when there are such enormous physiological changes taking place, stick with what your body is familiar with, rather than trying some new
When you’re new to exercise: Even if you’ve never been interested in fitness it’s a positive move to take stock and decide to exercise during pregnancy. Staying active is good for you and good for your baby and you should aim for the recommended 150 minutes exercise every week throughout pregnancy.
Initially I would recommend building fitness through an activity you are used to…..namely walking! It’s part of daily life, it’s functional and – for most in pregnancy – it’s safe. Once you have had your 12 week scan and are into your second trimester, you will be able to transition to any number of pregnancy-specific exercise classes run by prenatal fitness specialists.
When you’re a fitness enthusiast: At the other end of the spectrum, there are seasoned marathon runners, Cross Fit enthusiasts, horse riders, kick boxers, netball players or weight lifters, all representing a certain category of exercise: impact, competitive, high risk and strength. So how should you adapt your favourite exercise during pregnancy?
- High risk activities such as contact sports or dangerous sports (e.g. skiing, rock climbing, horse riding and -yes – netball) can be continued during the first trimester or as long as your bump doesn’t show and is protected by the pelvis. Once your bump begins to show it’s time to move on to forms of fitness where there’s no risk of taking a knock to your bump.
- Impact work, such as running, can safely be carried on in pregnancy with a few provisos. Firstly, there should be no medical contraindications to exercising during pregnancy; secondly, work at a moderate pace and thirdly, assess how you feel during and after your impact work. If recovery starts to take longer or the exercise begins to feel too onerous, reduce the intensity. Finally, ensure your impact work feels comfortable: fitness clothing that supports your bump can help prolong your maternity impact exercise but if your body wants to stop and rest – listen to it!
- The nature of competitive exercise is a desire to win and with that comes the risk of poor form and injury. Choose a non-competitive form of exercise once you are in your second trimester. CrossFitters should ideally rein in, work at a moderate pace and eliminate the competitive side of the workouts, avoiding contraindicated exercises. Again, this is subject to good recovery, keeping within the ‘moderate’ range and listening to your body.
- If strength training has been part of your pre-pregnancy fitness regime there is no reason why you cannot carry on training with weights, albeit at a more gentle level, avoiding lying on your back after the first trimester and being careful to avoid free weights that could potentially fall on your bump. Keeping strong will help stave off back and joint pain.
Most people would agree that exercise should be ‘moderate’ in pregnancy but the confusion lies in understanding what ‘moderate’ actually means.
My view is that ‘moderate’ should be defined by you, and you alone. It is your own personal ‘moderate’, framed by your pre-pregnancy fitness levels, what kind of a pregnancy you are having, how you happen to be feeling on any given day, how you slept last night, how far into pregnancy you are, and a multitude of other factors which only you can and MUST gauge every time you exercise during pregnancy.
Tune into your body
Listening to your body is fundamental to keeping exercise safe throughout pregnancy. It cannot be stressed enough that you should always tune in and listen to yourself. Never override what your body is telling you: if you’re too tired for that run then rest or do something less strenuous. If your post workout recovery time is getting longer, take heed and reduce the intensity of your exercise. If you have planned a workout but really don’t feel like doing it, then don’t. Simple and safe!
Jo is the mother of three boys and founder of FitBumpBox – a complete pregnancy and postnatal fitness kit that takes you safely through pregnancy and then rebuilds your fitness postnatally, including helping to correct abdominal separation. www.fitbumpboxoffer.com